Wednesday, June 29, 2016


"The pain will wash away. The healing will commence." This line is spoken by Bob Hoskin's character in the film, Felicia's Journey. I'm thinking about the ending of this film, which I won't give away. All I will say is that the ending is perfect because it beautifully captures the mercurial nature of life. Random events, strangers who enter our lives, and the slightest shifting of the sands of fate determine our outcomes.  

Last night 41 people lost their lives because of suicide bombers at the Ataturk Airport here in Istanbul. I was getting ready to go to the airport when I heard the news. If I had stuck to my original plan of taking the metro to to the airport and spending the night to save money, I would have been there when the bombs went off. Luckily, a colleague agreed to share a taxi with me and split the cost. 

My flight has been rescheduled for Saturday. Like Felicia, I was lucky thanks to felicitous circumstances.  

Hey Isis, Here's How To Celebrate an Anniversary

Dear Isis, 

I should be arriving in Portland, Oregon, right about now, but my flight was cancelled. It seems my travel plans clashed with the second anniversary of the declaration of the Islamic State Caliphate. I know a little bit about anniversaries from my brief stint as a hostess at an upscale restaurant. Here's how it works: Someone calls ahead to make a reservation. They always let the hostess know it's their anniversary; that puts them at the top of the list for a private booth. Then they show up looking snazzy and they sit in their romantic booth and enjoy a romantic meal and have a romantic conversation. At least I'm assuming their conversations are romantic. (I never eavesdropped.) That, Isis, is how an anniversary is supposed to work. Since it's Ramadan, you can make your reservation for after sundown. Have a nice iftar dinner, but keep your celebrations confined to your own private booth. Please. 

In fact, I know the perfect restaurant for you to celebrate your anniversary. In Kadikoy, there is a restaurant called Isis. It's actually named after the ancient Egyptian goddess, but you can pretend it's named after your group of hateful, deluded radicals.
Here's a picture of their menu. Be forewarned. They serve alcohol, but you can order a virgin drink. You like virgins, remember? Whatever you order, it will be much tastier than the mythological virgins you are promised in paradise. Oh, right, you need directions to the restaurant. I forgot, people like you need direction in life. This aptly named Isis restaurant is located on Bar Street. If you don't know where that is, just get off the ferry in Kadikoy and follow all the infidels looking to have a good time here on earth. You're going to have an amazing time. Trust me. 

If a private dinner at a restaurant and virgin drinks don't sound up your alley, I'll tell you what. You can celebrate with guns. But not the way you did last night. If you absolutely have to shoot a gun to feel some excitement in your life, go to some secluded area and shoot guns into the air. I read online that bullets come down with much lower velocity than they do when they are shot up, but they can still kill someone on the way down. Being killed by your own celebratory gunfire wouldn't be such a bad thing. So that's an option for you.  

The next step to celebrating a romantic anniversary is to read poetry. Read the poetry carefully and don't misinterpret it. When Rilke wrote "Flare up like a flame and make big shadows I can move in," he didn't mean, "Go blow yourself up." When he wrote, "Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going," he didn't mean, "Go out and terrorize everybody." If you need some recommendations, I'm personally a fan of Shakespeare's sonnets, even though they are works of idolatry, which I know you're against. I'll try to think of some more appropriate recommendations and get back to you.  

That's my advice for celebrating an anniversary in a civilized manner. Make a reservation so people know when to expect you. Celebrate privately. Enjoy a nice meal. Read poetry and please don't kill people. 


Meriwether Falk

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


This is a poem I wrote when I was little. Above the poem is a picture of me on my first birthday, ignoring my own advice and eating cake.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Compassion Without Compromise

A truly oppressive person cannot see beyond his or her own self-interest and so no relationship with them will ever be joyful or reciprocal. They are blinded by their ego and live in a world by themselves and for themselves. Do not grovel to these people. Do not try to placate them. Do not hope they will change. Do not engage with them or hang about with them. Do not let them provoke anger. Never sink to their level. We must never tolerate a tyrant's efforts to hold us back. We mustn't let them govern our potential. Every display of submission, deference, meekness, and compromise they see from the desperate or feeble among us gives them a perverse joy, and their power grows. And every time we back down from them or minimize ourselves, we become more fearful and weak. 

So let us be diligent in avoiding these people, without ever deviating from our own path. We mustn't wish them ill; it's not worth the energy, and wicked people will get what they deserve as they destroy themselves. Our success lies not in their destruction but in our own advancement, not in the astonishment on their faces as we surge past them but in the joy in our hearts at having prevailed despite them.  

From The Motivation Manifesto by Brendan Burchard.

This chunk of wisdom resonated with me like hearing the perfect song at just the right moment.  

The past week has been both troublesome and carefree. Some days have been more complex versions of my experience being woken by Ramazan drummers at 2 AM, jolting me out of much needed REM sleep, and then hearing the faint and welcome sound of the first call to prayer from the nearest mosque. The first sound blasts into my consciousness and the other drifts in like a peaceful lullaby. I'm happy that every day has ended on a peaceful note, thanks to my wonderful friends. And since I don't have to wake up early anymore, I can wait until the drummers finish their ambush on people's sleep before I crawl under the covers. 
My lovely friends. 
The purpose of fasting during Ramazan, as I understand it, is to practice self-control and to identify with those who are hungry and feel compassion for them. I consented the other day to what I thought was showing compassion for someone, but what turned into something different. I agreed to listen to someone. Listening is good, right? If they are good people and the listening serves both of you, then yes. If you are just listening to a tyrant going on a tirade, it is best to excuse yourself.

I immediately labeled this experience as a sounding board/emotional punching bag as "wasted compassion," but after some reflection, I decided there's no such thing. Feeling compassion doesn't mean you have to turn yourself into a rag doll for people to wring with violent hands. Compassion can be self-imposed hunger that reminds you there are people who don't have enough to eat. Compassion can be trying to understand addiction by holding your breath until you can't think about anything in the whole world but wanting to breathe. For addicts, their next fix is the equivalent of another person's next breath. Compassion can be relating to different characters in literature and films.

But one thing it's not: subjecting yourself to abuse. 

Here's a song that always stirs up compassion in me. Compassion can also be paying tribute to Tom Waits with a beautiful rendition of one of his songs. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Everyone Else's Burden: The White Man's Privilege

A knowledgeable viewer critiques, not just consumes, and can differentiate between real life and make believe. We always say art imitates life, but art also imitates fantasy and pure drivel, which can be destructive if mistaken for reality. The more mindful and observant we become in our viewing practices, whether we're watching films, the news, or advertisements, the more critical we will become and able to recognize some things in life that are false, indecent, or just plain wrong. We will also be able to put ourselves into the shoes of others and call foul when people are being dehumanized, when the powerful try to pass off their oppression as normal and say, "That's just the way real life works."

The Brock Turner case has me thinking about male privilege and how men and women are treated differently. All day I've been thinking about Brock Turner's former high school teacher writing to the judge and saying he would trust Brock Turner with his daughter. When I read that, I thought, Really? You would trust a rapist to go out with your daughter?! I wonder how your daughter feels about that! Then I realized this high school teacher puts women into two categories: the good girls who don't get raped, i.e. his daughter, and the bad ones who do. So in other words, he's blaming the victim. 

The short film, "No Bikini," shows how girls are groomed for their lower status in life, corralled into strict gender roles, and given clothing that either teaches them to be modest and submissive or an object of beauty to go on display.

When I was younger, I cut my hair short and dressed like a boy. I felt safer as a boy, more confident. I think about those days the same way the narrator in the film reminiscences about her six weeks of boyhood, six weeks of bliss. Today when I was expressing my anger and dismay about the Brock Turner case to a man, I said, "We still have a long way to go. In America, there's fast forgiveness if you're white, male, and upper class. You can rape an unconscious woman and get away with a light sentence." The horrifying response meant to be a joke was, "I'm moving to America!" Only in a rape culture would such a "joke" be uttered.  

When I showed this film to students, I asked them to consider the following questions: How does Ms. Delaware treat boys and girls in her swim class differently? How do the swimming styles differ between boys and girls? If Robin hadn't undergone a change, would she have been able to achieve the same level of confidence and skill? What was the mother's reaction when she learned about Robin's achievements? Would the mother's reaction have been different if Robin were a boy? How so?

By refining our critical viewing skills, maybe we can start to notice and criticize some troubling aspects of a culture that is stratified by white, male privilege and has stripped the right of women to feel safe.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Loneliness of the 10k Runner

A 5K is a playful jaunt, nothing to write home about, but double it and I believe you earn some bragging rights. The Nike Women Victory Tour was my second 10K. The first was in Thessaloniki, Greece, where it was such a warm and inclusive introduction to racing that I thought I would like to do it again. If I had started with the run I did this morning in Istanbul, I may have been intimidated by the whole experience and gone back to being a reclusive treadmill runner. When I arrived at the starting point this morning, I had an alarming realization. Every woman in sight was young and athletic. During the warmup I was struck by the euphoric looks on some of the women’s faces, as if they were excited about running a 10K! I actually don’t like running, but as with eating bananas, I do it because I think it’s good for me. Bananas and running, both dislikes of mine, seem to go hand-in-hand since at both races I’ve finished, bananas are the mediocre snack that gets doled out. (No pun intended.) The experience of being surrounded by so many happy athletes was similar to being in a church and noticing everyone but me is spiritually moved. I felt extremely out of place.

At the back of the throng of women, farthest from the starting point, was a human signpost clad in neon green running gear. The sign sticking out of her back brace read, “8 min. km.” A modest army of women milled around her and I heard another woman voice my concern to the human signpost. “What if we’re slower than you? Is there any other pacer who will be running slower than you?” The signpost said a little too cheerfully that if we ran slower than her, we’d have to run alone. I introduced myself to the woman who asked our unsympathetic signpost about speed, thinking that if everyone else deserted us, we could at least run with each other. We chatted and she seemed to share my view that the women surrounding us were the ruling elite and we were the brave Bolsheviks who were going to fight our way to the front.

At some point during the run, plugged into my music and contemplating that the only understandable word from Rihanna’s song “Work” is “work,” I lost my friend. I found out later that she had accidentally followed all the 5K runners, a mistake I kind of envied her for. While running along Bagdat Caddesi, I had to run into a Mado coffee shop and follow the dark and winding Indiana-Jones-esque passageway to the bathroom, an interval that cost me a few minutes. When I re-entered the race I was almost dead last, with just a few women behind me. I tried to catch up and realized my situation was dire when the ambulance and motorcycles were inching behind me like vultures zeroing in a lame wildebeest. I’m pretty sure the only person who suffered a worse indignity than me along the route was the little boy whose father pulled down his pants in front of everyone and chastised him with the disapproving, “Allah Allah,” for, I presume, wetting himself.

By the time I came to the end of the race, I had finally caught up with the unsympathetic signpost. People disharmonized on drums in an effort to increase runners’ tempos. Handsome Mediterranean men, who were placed near the end as motivation, clapped their hands, gave me the thumbs up and yelled, “Super!” One man escorted me to the finish line, saying, “You ran in one hour and 15 minutes.” For me this was great news. I had beaten my previous time by eight minutes. But I was a little discouraged when he waved his hand in a so-so gesture. I devoured my ice cream at the end of the race and was happy to see my friend from the beginning approach me and tell me the story of how she’d accidentally run a 5K. We went out for crepes and met up with my two other friends, who hadn’t run but just wanted to chill. They were kind in extending their congratulations and supportive of the fact that I had even finished the race, never mind what my time was.

My support team! 
Istanbul is a lot like me in that it runs at a slower pace than other big cities. I have to practice patience when I’m trying to buy my groceries and the clerk is too busy playing games on her phone to acknowledge me or ring up my items, or when I’m at a restaurant and the waiters are having a conversation and not bringing me a menu. I guess I should also practice patience with myself and just be proud of my achievements, even if I’m the athletic equivalent of an unmotivated grocery clerk.

I’ve thought about why the race in Istanbul was so different than the race in Greece. My only explanation is that running in Turkey, especially among women, hasn’t really caught on yet. The only people who do it are the ones who take it very seriously. My mom, who lived in Istanbul in the 70’s, told me stories about how she would go jogging and men would follow her, just curious to see where she was going in such a hurry. Now women joggers aren’t such an endangered species, but on occasion are still preyed upon by creepy men, which is why I don’t usually like to run in public. Hopefully, running will become a more inclusive activity in the future and more women will feel safe and encouraged to go out and release their inner Olympian. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Flaming June

The scarecrow runs like he's spewing fastballs with each rotation of his wildly swinging arms. He looks desperate to win, only this is not a race. This is just a spontaneous jog through a field of poppies.

The Tin Man is dressed too formally for this occasion and he regrets being such a stickler for silver. With each scraping step, he wishes he had worn his blue casual business sneakers.

The cowardly lion has the best form, his tail akin to the keel of a boat.

Toto is the first one to cave to exhaustion. Dorothy follows, tumbling into the field of soporific poppies.